If your company doesn’t take safety as seriously as it should, you might want to pass this column along to your management team. The folks at OSHA have proven they’re more than willing to impose stiffer penalties on companies that don’t adequately protect their employees or get caught and categorized as repeat offenders. In mid-June of last year, the agency implemented its new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and increased civil penalty amounts for specific violations. The SVEP is focusing OSHA enforcement resources on “recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law.” Companies that find themselves in the crosshairs of this new program face increased OSHA inspections at their work sites, including mandatory follow-up inspections and inspections of other work sites.

Based on the number of news releases I saw when reviewing the enforcement section of OSHA’s website, the new plan and stiffer penalties are in full gear. Here are a couple of recent reports that made reference to repeat violations. For more information on this subject, turn to the cover story, “Safety Patrol.”

  • In February, OSHA cited Northeast Hospital Corp. for alleged repeat and serious violations of electrical safety standards at its facility in Beverly, Mass. The employer faces a total of $63,000 in proposed fines following an OSHA inspection prompted by a worker complaint. OSHA found that some hospital employees were exposed to potential electric shock, burns, arc flash incidents, and electrocution while changing circuit breakers on live electrical panels. Specifically, the employees lacked or did not use personal protective equipment while working with energized electrical equipment; electrical protective equipment was not periodically tested; electrical safety-related work practices were not used; and specific procedures were not developed for the control of hazardous energy while replacing electrical breakers. The hospital also was issued one repeat citation for failing to ensure that unused openings in electrical panels and cabinet motor control centers were effectively closed. The citation was classified as a repeat offense because OSHA had cited the hospital in May 2010 for a similar condition.
  • In mid-May, OSHA cited steel manufacturer Republic Engineered Products, Inc., in Lorain, Ohio, for seven willful and three repeat safety violations, with proposed penalties totaling $563,000, of failing to protect workers from fall hazards and implement adequate energy source lockout/tagout procedures to prevent injury from hazardous equipment. OSHA first inspected the facility in November 2010 after a worker was hospitalized with a broken pelvis when he fell 9 ft from a coil transfer car in the bar mill. The repeat violations were cited for failing to train employees in lockout/tagout procedures; specify the procedural steps necessary to lock out electrical, hydraulic, and gravitational energy sources for the coil transfer car; and isolate all hazardous energy sources. It was also noted that the company was cited back in 2008 at both the Lorain facility and its Blasdell, N.Y., facility for failing to develop and adequately train workers on lockout/tagout procedures.

Call me naïve, but I’m still surprised to see companies being run with such disregard for worker safety, especially in the electrical arena. There’s just no excuse for this type of behavior. With a few strokes of a keyboard, anyone can access hundreds of research reports, technical papers, standards, and codes related to electrical safety. If your employer is one that chooses to ignore this type of information, placing you and other employees at risk, then I hope to one day soon see them featured in an OSHA enforcement press release!